Child predators are skilled at creating a relationship with children over time in order to be able ultimately meet and to victimize them, according to State Police Lt. John Pizzuro, the commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The grooming can take months.

“They’ll look for and point out individuals within the social media landscape or the gaming landscape that don’t seem to have a lot of attention and then they’ll start giving that individual attention," he said.

The attention could come in the form of gift cards or other gifts. Pizzuro said if a parent sees their child is all of a sudden getting online game credits, they have to question where this stuff is coming from.

He pointed out once a predator has established some sort of relationship with a child, "they’re going to start manipulating the children into thinking that no one else is in their corner.” Especially the child’s parents.

New Jersey child psychologist Dr. Steven Tobias agreed that predators may try to isolate the child and manipulate them into thinking their parents don’t understand them.

“That’s why the communication with the kid is so important," he said Thursday evening during a special town hall broadcast on New Jersey 101.5 and NJ1015.com. "That’s why rule-setting with the child is so important. That’s why the monitoring of what they’re doing online is so important.”

He said when parents are talking to their kids about the dangers of cyber-predators, they can “explain the grooming process to kids. Let kids know that if someone is giving you something for free, that’s not free, they’re going to expect something in return, and that’s what’s going to start getting them in trouble.”

He said if parents find out their son or daughter has been in touch with an online predator, their first instinct may be to get angry. But the best approach is to “be in touch with that feeling of worry and take a gentler approach, asking questions.”

Pizzuro said if parents get angry and yell at their kids “it’s just going to completely withdraw the children even more, and the most important thing is to get that communication.”

“You don’t want your children to just shut down. We need all the information that we can get in order to help investigate some of those individuals that are victimizing the children.”

Tobias said the real key for parents is to create a trusting relationship with their kids.

“You have to spend the time talking with them, being with them, having fun with them and also reassuring them. Let them know that you’re a kid, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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